I was delighted to chance upon a co-working space in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia with the cool, colourful and spacious design aesthetics I like.
WOTSO brings its successful model from Australia, with a 24/7 office neatly tucked into the Mercu Summer Suite building in central KL. Here, CEO Stuart Brown talks business.
Stuart, thanks for taking the time to answer these questions. First up, what does WOTSO mean – is it an acronym?
There are two stories here – the one I prefer is WOTSO is an acronym for We’re Off The Surfs Overhead. However, for those that don’t surf on our team, WOTSO is an acronym for the business that once occupied our very first space workspace located in Neutral Bay.
Balancing the needs of large corporate clients with those of SMEs, freelancers and digital nomads – how does WOTSO accommodate them all?
We listen to exactly what our members want and diversify our space based on that. Our team has been in the property business a long time – far longer than WOTSO has been around – so we are well accustomed to adjusting our spaces to suit the needs of businesses of all shapes and sizes. We know that everyone works differently and expects very different things from their working environment. It’s about balancing that, while we still maintain the fun, energy and vibrancy that WOTSO has become known for.
Spending money on hot desks or office space may not be a budget priority for cash- strapped small business owners. How can you convince them otherwise?
Very true – I think when a small business is in the early stages of growth, prioritising an office, or even a permanent desk can feel really intimidating and not necessarily, a priority. This is exactly why we built WOTSO on flexibility. We know how important it is for budding businesses owners to network, change their environment (i.e. leave their kitchen bench) and be surrounded by likeminded individuals. We also know there are financial pressures of long-term leasing contracts that are just not viable for small business owners – this is where WOTSO can support businesses in their early stages of growth and remove that pressure in a way that other workspaces can’t, and don’t.
What does WOTSO offer that other workspaces don’t?
Outside of our flexibility, we offer an industry agnostic co-working environment that thrives off having so many different businesses under a WOTSO roof. We like the fact that our members are from a hugely diverse range of industries. Often times when people think of co-working or shared workspaces, they think tech, they think Silicon Valley. Sure – we have incredible members in tech, but we also have members who are lawyers, psychologists, marketers, carpenters…. The diversity of WOTSO members never ceases to amaze me and I have been in this business a long time!
What are the benefits of having a co-working space within a residential setting, such as the Kuala Lumpur WOTSO at the Mercu Summer Suites?
Across all of our WOTSO spaces, we are finding the balance between work and lifestyle. Our positioning in the Mercu Summer Suites is another example of WOTSO giving our members proximity to lifestyle elements. Being in a residential setting with strong amenities enables members to work where they live, go to the gym, eat and play.
Looking at the corporate/world of work more broadly, do you think there is a general disillusionment with ‘office politics’ that is driving people to work for themselves? In addition, do you think more women are looking for alternative ways of working that will allow them to realise their leadership potential (with or without children)?
At the end of the day, there is always going to be politics, by nature of people having differing opinions and perspectives on their work, as well as the work of others. However, I certainly believe that the autonomy that comes with running your own business and that flexibility to be accountable only to yourself, is a major driver for many new business owners. At WOTSO, we have a really strong network of female employees who, like all of our team members are really looking for new and innovative ways of achieving their work and constantly searching for the best outcomes for the WOTSO business. They have a strong leadership mindset – whether it is leading a team, their space or even progressing and pushing their own roles that I think comes as a mix of their own skillsets and expertise, as well as the environment they work in.
How do you think the workspace sector can withstand any impacts from the current troubling economic climate?
WOTSO was born out of a downturn in the economic climate. We recognised (quickly) that so many businesses really couldn’t afford to run offices with overheads and long lease terms. We are the solution to that. Co-working and shared workspaces are no longer a trend or a movement – it is a way of working that makes having an office style environment possible without the ridiculous costs that so many have become accustomed to.
Do you think the co-working market is becoming overcrowded, or only in some countries? Where do you see the most scope for growth? For example, wellness services? childcare support? More seminars and networking opportunities?
As more and more businesses start to look for a different way of working – where they work, how they work etc. – the co-working market is growing. Where WOTSO is situated in Asia Pacific, the want for co-working is a growing one. The way we started our business – and intend to grow it further – is by positioning ourselves primarily in localised areas, whereby our members have access to amenities such as wellness services, gyms, day care and supermarkets. We want to make the lives – in both work and leisure – of our members simpler and more enjoyable. By hosting regular networking events in our space – both during the day and after traditional working hours – our members also have the opportunity to grow their network within our space. To me this is a true point of different with WOTSO – our approach and proximity to amenities outside of what we offer, as well as our ‘always on’ networking opportunities is really where set ourselves apart. That, and very cool workspaces!
Future plans for WOTSO?
We are constantly future planning the WOTSO business. Co-working and shared workspaces are seeing huge growth year on year, so it is an exciting time for WOTSO to be in the mix. We will be opening two new locations in Australia before the end of 2019, as well as looking at expansion plans for existing sites and of course, looking for new site opportunities as we make our way into 2020.
In previous interviews, you’ve made it clear that nurturing staff talent is critical. What makes WOTSO a great place to work?
WOTSO is about giving people – our team – that opportunity to really find an area of the business that they like and are passionate about and allowing them to grow their capabilities there. Our team have the opportunity to get involved in event and marketing led activations, as well as sales and building out their spaces to make them an exciting, vibrant space for their members. Whether it is developing Pitch Nights, Friday Drinks or other such events for our members, the WOTSO team is a fun, energetic and passionate crew who really reflect what WOTSO is all about – community, networking and growing your business.
Does WOTSO have any ‘giving back’, or community initiatives, on the go or in the pipeline?
WOTSO, both in Australia and in Malaysia, are always partnering with community led organisations that are specific to a site. We like to engage in community activities that promote collaboration, innovation, as well as giving back. It is important that we work closely with local suppliers within each space to really support both growing and established businesses in our network. At a corporate level, we align ourselves with a couple of key charitable organisations, such as the Kids Cancer Project – lending our support to these organisations to raise awareness and funds for their missions and work with such important causes.
With so much going on, how do you relax?
When I’m not at work, or spending time with my family, you can find me at Bondi Beach surfing. The ocean is my downtime.
And, finally, your favourite holiday destination?
I’m off to Hawaii for some sun and good surf. So, with that around the corner, I’m going to say Hawaii in this moment!
“Co-working and shared workspaces are no longer a trend or a movement – it is a way of working that makes having an office style environment possible without the ridiculous costs that so many have become accustomed to”.Stuart Brown
For more information about WOTSO click here
Read my articles about working and living abroad here